Charley – By Vicki Palma-Ramey(@mistressmommy) Sci-Fi/Fatal Attraction Contest winner!

Come on sweet Charley, it’s time for bed.” Her mother’s beloved voice called from the hallway. It was her mother’s voice that provided Charley with comfort when nighttime arrived. It was her familiar scent that soothed Charley when cradled closely to her mother’s chest. The gallop of her heart beating in an evened rhythm, a source of comfort as familiar as her time in the womb. Each night, Charley memorized every detail of her mother because amid her dreams, it felt as if morning were never a promise.

Charley raised her chubby little arms as her mother scooped her up, swung her high into the air and planted a kiss on her forehead. Charley nestled her sleepy head against the soft angora sweater, safe in her secure embrace as they entered her bedroom. Her mother leaned over the canopy bed, depositing Charley into the middle of the lavender, frilly bedspread.

“Lay your head my pretty girl, momma loves you. I’ll see you in the morning.” She tucked her under the comforter, placing her favored teddy, Mr. Bear, under the covers next to her. She bent down and kissed her forehead once more before leaving the room and turning off the light. Charley closed her eyes tightly, wishing the night to hurry along, counting silent minutes until she saw the beauty of her mother’s reflection in the dawn’s light.

__________

A resounding boom echoed in the distance. The fear of death permeated the air, the world they knew crumbling with each destructive wave of bombings. Dust filled the dark, narrowing tunnel as footfalls echoed off the dew dampened walls.

“Y’all need to move out! Let’s go! We have less than 10 minutes until the second wave hits!” Major Sams was leading from the rear, shouting as they ran. The dank tunnels were the last of the secure routes. Everything else had either collapsed or been infiltrated with heat seeking explosives.

I could feel my throat thickening with panic. Nightmares of the dark creeping in tried to invade my thoughts but I kept telling myself that escaping was the only way out of certain death. My breath was uneven. The pace of our run was nearly full out for this size of a formation. I was part of the final ten from our unit. The rest had gone ahead with other ships.

We left five men behind to ensure that nothing followed. It was hard to say goodbye to them. They knew their fate was sealed, however, leaving the guys with half of our ammunition helped to ease the guilt.

Ahead, a flicker of light was the only indication we were nearing our destination. Major Sams’ voice rumbled over our heads. “Five minutes! You have five minutes to breach that threshold or we are trapped here. MOVE IT!”

Together, we managed to muster up the last of our strength, pulling from depths unseen. I would categorize it as a survival instinct because we collectively sprinted the last two hundred yards, stopping long enough to pull the door open in the metal tube. I ran for the stairs up the hull of the craft with Major Sams on my heels. His breath as ragged as my own. I vaguely heard the head count indicating that we were all accounted for, as the clanging of metal being sealed filled the air with an ominous thud.

“Let’s go girl, light up the night.” Major Sams didn’t look in my direction as he took the Pilot’s chair to my right.

I had already begun my routine: flipping switches, priming lines, and quietly checking gauges. I was desperately recalling every ounce of simulation training as my fingers nimbly skimmed from gadget to gadget. Sputtering noises from the main fuel line indicated that the life of this craft was jolted like a beast from hibernation.

“Come on baby,” I whispered to myself. Over the past two years, as it became evident that life was shifting, and space evacuation would be the only alternative, we started planning. There were many unknowns, including if this old craft could get off the ground.

We trained for it. We ran every imaginable failure to launch scenario; scoured over the plans and specs of this craft. The last of us on this vessel knew everything about the Visoraf, the first of her kind to take to deep space and successfully travel FTL(faster than light).

I had heard of people who were able to navigate space, but they were long gone before I finished the academy with the Fleet Defense Force. It was more like tales around a campfire, and legends in our manuals, heroes I never met. The Visoraf was the first spacecraft to navigate hyperdrive and successfully return. Others attempted propulsion travel, but communication was lost, and they were never heard from again.

I was toggling the last knob when Major Sams gripped my shoulders. “You ready for this?” The second shockwave struck as soon as the question left his lips. We both braced against the edge of the control frame before us. The force of the blast shook the craft, but the bolts held, and we didn’t slip from the launching pad. There was a crackle overhead, the external coms.

Visoraf, this is Delta 3, do you copy?” Coughing followed.

I pulled my mic from my vest, “Delta 3, this is Visoraf. I hear you. Report.”

Visoraf, this is it. You need to be off the ground before the third wave hits. Intel predicted the third wave is the make or break. If you are not airborne before the strike, you will be bones in a metal casket.”

“Copy that.” I looked at Major for confirmation. The look on his face said enough. “Tom, I don’t know what to say. I wish you guys could be here with us on this journey. Thank you for your sacrifice. Are the other guys with you?” I wanted to know but dreaded his response.

There was a long pause. “Dig and Nate were two clicks too close to the hot zone.” The somberness in his voice pierced my heart with agony. The timer ran on the coms circuit above my head. We had ten minutes remaining to clear the path.

“Go in peace, and Tom, we will never forget you five.” My voice faltered. Major laid his calloused hand over mine.

“That’s enough soldier. We don’t have time for heartbreak to cloud our judgement. We have a mission to complete. Remember, on my mark you click twice and turn once. We go at the eight-minute mark.” He eased my hand away from the microphone and turned his attention to the control panel. He proceeded through the final protocol. The spacecraft rumbled louder this time.

I inhaled a deep breath, pushing aside the sorrow that burdened my soul. A burst of static filled the tiny space, distracting my thoughts. I glanced at the countdown ticker; four minutes.

Visoraf, you need to turn up the clock and bug out. Something strange just flew across the skies and the dark cloud is moving faster. You may almost be out of time. Go now.” Tom’s urgency punched me in the gut. He had eyes on the top. That was the sole reason we left behind five guys. They covered a forty-mile range at three angles. The other two hovered at the one hundred-mile mark. That was the detonation zone for Nate and Dig. I trusted Tom – and I knew Major did as well.

Major pressed the green button in the upper right-hand corner, “Buckle up boys, trouble on the horizon. We go in two.” His voice bellowed through the antiquated speakers.

“Delta 3, we go in two.” I lingered on the com a few seconds longer before my hand dropped and I leaned back against the high back chair. My hands skillfully checked my belts, another task we drilled continually until it became second nature. All our training had the same outlined goal: No thought, complete action.

As my fingers gripped the lever for a final turn, the rumble of the thrusters created vibrations that chattered our teeth as the ground beneath us spewed dirt and debris, Delta 3 came over the com one final time.

“From my vantage point, your skies are confirmed clear. Go get ‘em, Charley.” It was the last communication we received before our space craft careened through the final barrier of atmosphere separating us from earth, our speed hurling us to the outer regions of space. In our wake, we could see no noticeable resemblance of the blue hues of earth. It was a cloud of orange dust. Our earth was engulfed in unimaginable fire.

Four months passed. The monotony was killing me. We ate the same three meals. We shared the same sleeping quarters. We rarely spoke of the life we left behind because we all carried with us a guilt. They say it’s survivor’s guilt. We had a few seminars on the topic.

The logistics “think tank” predicted that if we made it this far in the mission that we’d either burn out from boredom or externalize our guilt. For me, today was a bit of both. I stood, staring into the abyss of emptiness, waiting to glimpse anything that mirrored a rendezvous.

“I’d say a penny for your thoughts, but I didn’t bring any money. Figured we wouldn’t need coins where we are headed. Do we even know where we are headed?” Lad eased up alongside me, bumping my shoulder in his brotherly way.

“I wish I knew.” Lad and I joined the force around the same time. Two kids barely able to be considered adults yet qualified to sign away our lives. Ironic.

He came from a broken home, escaping an alcoholic father and an absent mother. Lad knew two things, escape the hell he was living in, or become a statistic facing murder charges for killing the bastard he had to call his father. I suppose his senses stopped by for a visit the day after his father nearly beat him to death in a drunken binge. His father was arrested, but Lad didn’t stick around long enough to see if they’d incarcerate the prick for longer than a sobering night in the tank.

“I heard Major telling Madison that we had another three months before we could hyperdrive?” His remark hung in the air.

“Yeah, I overheard the same thing. Our coordinates were confirmed, but something about the timing of the hyperdrive had to be exact, or they could not guarantee the predetermined coordinates plugged in from the first mission this ship went on in the 80’s would coincide.” I shrugged. The absolute certainty of whether we’d even reach the others was a mystery. We were carrying with us the last of humanity on a series of portable drives that were kept on lockdown.

“Hey Charley, did you see that?” Lad leaned closer to the reinforced window, squinting.

I moved over to the adjacent window, scanning the horizon. I was thankful for the distraction. “Lad, what did you see?”

“Watch ten o’clock. I eyed it twice before I mentioned anything to you. It’s like a glimmer or a streak of movement, then it disappears.” Lad radioed overhead. “Um, just an update, if you are on port side, take to an available window and check out roughly, 10 o’ clock.”

Major Sams appeared moments later, “What are you seeing?”

“I’m not really sure Major, it’s coming and going. At first, I thought it was my mind creating images out of nothing. You know, the trickery we were lectured about in seminar our first year. After witnessing it twice though, I asked Charley to have a look.” They both turned toward me, expectant.

I didn’t see anything. The isolation of space messes with the mind. I didn’t want to be wrong about this. “I need a few more …….” My voice trailed off as I caught what Lad was talking about. I pressed my nose to the glass, the blustery cold causing me to retract just as quickly.

“He’s right.” I spoke in a hushed tone.

“Why are you whispering, Charley?” Major moved to my location, a hint of annoyance in his voice. I stepped aside, pointing out exactly where I too had witnessed the oddity. Lad shifted, opening free space to share his window. I was riveted by the endless possibilities in the new galaxy.

Major nodded as he turned to me, “I want you back topside. Meet up with Hopkins and pull the celestial mapping grids. I need to know what we may be encountering out here. We are near three months from hyperdrive and at this depth, nothing was ever charted for contact.”

“Charted for contact, Sir?” I questioned.

“Just do it Charley.” He returned his attention to the small window.

I left them standing in the window and went in search of my crew mate. As I passed by the small chow hall, I peered inside. Penn and Burg were seated on the small sectional. Frank was sipping on the hooch that he made, a concoction birthed by boredom in space. I shook my head, observing them, “Yo, either of you see Hopkins?”

Penn responded first, “Not for hours. Check below deck ‘cause he muttered something about chess with Quip.”

I retreated to the other end of the ship and descended to the mechanical underbelly of our ancient vessel. Quip was a loner and preferred the solitude. His lanky frame and acne scarred skin had made him an easy target for bullies back home. His intelligence, however, was off the charts. I didn’t really need the mapping charts with Quip. He was a mobile savant.

“Here you two are.” I held onto the lip of the bulkhead, swaying impatiently as they glanced in my direction and continued their game. I knew if I wanted to interrupt them then I’d have to wait for each man to make his last move. It may be an hour the way these two maneuvered. It was cerebral. I don’t think I have that kind of patience.

I cleared my throat, “Hopkins, Major requested, rather demanded, that you join me in the makeshift board room. We need to pull out the celestial mapping documents. There was a sighting of something peculiar.”

“Why doesn’t Major want me to assist?” Quip moved his Pawn, giving me a dry sideways glance.

“Honestly, because we never see you outside of this damn den of darkness. He probably thought you’d tell him to go bugger himself.” I turned slowly, calling over my shoulder, “Of course there is no reason you can’t tag along now.”

As he stood, his six foot-five frame appeared massive in the corner where they sat. “I suppose I can take a gander at the blinking excitement of infinite space. Besides, you chuckleheads may miss something and propel us further into some unknown dimension of hell.”

“Whatever dude. Just meet us on the top.” I didn’t stay behind to hear his retort. His name really suited him, even as invaluable as he was for his intelligence, he was still a huge pain in the ass.

__________

The maps were spread across every available surface as the three of us scoured coordinates and planetary positions. It was more like Hopkins and I were busy looking them over. Quip tapped his finger on the antiqued blueprint, shaking his head in occasional disagreement of our location relevant to what we spotted in the distance. Major paced nearby, his coffee cup glued to his hand. It was probably empty by now.

“Explain it again Quip. What do you mean it’s not charted?” Major paused, inhaling impatiently.

Quip took a calming breath. “Look, if we had a modern ship with updated technology, similar to the mass manufactured crafts launched ahead of us in preparation for the end of the fucking earth, I could show you on the tech screen. But we don’t. We are left to archaic methods in this massive floating tin can. All I have are the damn paper milled charts and my photographic memory. Remember, the other damn reason I had to stay behind.”

He slammed his fist down, scattering loose brick-a-brack. “That blip of light we are seeing, it doesn’t belong there. There was never a charted jet stream, if you will. There wasn’t a known wormhole. It is not an exoplanet, and we sure as hell are months from activating hyperdrive to rendezvous along the tail of the spiral of the last known galaxy. So, I don’t know what it is. But I do know that it isn’t anything that I’ve researched in preparation for this damn mission.”

Quip left the room, leaving us all staring after him, lost for an explanation.

“He may be right. I have no reason to not trust him. I cannot refute his assessment. It’s not my area of expertise. Damn Sir, I’m inclined to believe him just on principle. I think we should proceed with caution if his feathers are ruffled over this glitch.” I expressed my concern with Hopkins and Major.

“I’ll mull this over. Get with Frank and Penn, see if they picked up any communication from their end. Let Quip cool down. He’s a think tank. Give him his space.” Major Sams turned heel to leave then halted. “And where the hell are Mills and Madison? Get a coms check on those two and report back.” He disappeared around the corridor.

Settling into the nearest chair, I leaned against the station board. A whirl of sound chattering behind me. “Are we screwed, Hopkins?”

“We will be if we can’t figure this out. The twins can tell us how screwed we are if they’ve been paying attention to this from the bay room.” He pressed the knob to the left from where he stood, radioing for Mills and Madison. “I’m going to go to the west wing and see what our fate is to become. Meanwhile, you have some experience with this, jack of all trades. See if you can figure out if that is a reflection from inside a black hole. If it’s alien, let’s find an answer, because we will be in passing range soon.”

As soon as he was out of sight, I rested my throbbing head over my folded arms and closed my eyes. I just needed a minute. My head ached as the interrupted sleep began to take its toll.

I awoke with a jolt to smoke and sirens, completely disoriented. Track lighting in light blue illuminated the room. Everything else was dark. Shit, how long was I out for? It felt like we were moving faster than normal, almost careening out of control. I craned my head toward the corridor, noise floating toward me.

“Charley! Charley, where are you?”

Lad. I recognized his husky voice. He was close. I gripped the arm of the curved chair to lift myself to my legs but immediately collapsed. Pain registered slowly as the fog receded.

“Don’t panic,” I assured myself as my hands moved quickly toward the source of the pain. My fatigues were cut and the fabric wet. A shard of something metal seemed to be embedded in the side of my thigh; poking through the tear in my fatigues.

“Lad, in here!” I shouted. His footfalls grew louder as he neared. I yelled again. “In here!”

He appeared at the entrance. “What the hell, Charley!?” He didn’t ask any further questions. He bent over and extracted me from the chair.

“My leg.” I immediately winced as he threw me over his shoulder, gripping my thighs.

“We’ll figure it out later. Right now, we have to get to the west wing.” He jogged the corridor, curving around toward the stairwell near the end of the short hall. His breath was uneven. I knew my weight was not a factor for him to carry. Something serious had to have occurred while I napped.

I silently swore. I hadn’t meant to doze off. The exhaustion won me over. The smoke thickened as he passed the second landing, heading down. I wanted to ask, but the urgency in his pace alerted my sense to hold all questions until we were safe.

He rounded the last bend in the corridor of the first level and slowed enough to wrench open the security door leading to the wing that housed two escape pods and the intel in our charge.

“Is she hurt?” Mills cradled me in his arms, relieving Lad of his burden. He peered down at me. “Where’s your medic pack?”

I pointed to my left pocket as he set me on the bench in the pod, fastening the straps of the safety harness around my body. Sweat beaded on his forehead in the closed space.

“Is anyone going to update me?” I thought I was holding it together well, but as the moments ticked by with clear air, fear started to creep in.

“Madison and I were scanning with the rudimentary sonar when the ship was pulled toward that anomaly you guys spotted up top yesterday.” Mills responded.

“Yesterday? How long have I been out?” The confusion overwhelmed me. Twelve hours passed. It felt like five minutes, ten tops since I closed my eyes.

“I got nothing doll face. You have a nice size egg on the side of your head. My guess would be you were struck by a projectile in whatever room you were in last when we were hit by passing debris with the abrupt change in our trajectory. We had to seal off half the ship because of the damage that breached the hull and caused a devastating explosion.

“Sealed half the what?” My brain felt like mud, unable to decipher the intended message. He quickly and calmly recounted the events over the past twelve hours. My shoulders slumped as I collapsed into a heap. Thankfully, I had been secured to one of four jump seats within the pod. A flicker of acknowledgement registered. “Are you saying we lost half the crew?”

“That’s what he’s saying.” Lad appeared, grief in his eyes. Madison leaned against the bulkhead, solemn.

“How can you be so matter of fact?” Rage tempered my fear. I wanted to unbuckle from the harness and search for our crew. I fumbled with the release mechanisms. Lad lowered himself onto the seat next to me and nodded in the direction of the twins. Both men concurred with the silent request and retreated out of the small passenger bay as Lad took my hands into his.

“Charley, it’s a lot to take in. I get it. I would not let them disembark until I searched one more time for you. We nearly had it out, playground style. I fought to have them wait five minutes before implementing emergency protocol and sealing off the ship. It was hell navigating to your last known location, but I had to, and the call almost cost us both of our lives.” He inhaled, bereft. “We lost our brother’s girl, our Major too. We are fighters. Whatever awaits us in the unknown, we have a story to tell, lives to remember. It’s what we are clinging to.”

__________

Time becomes irrelevant when drifting in vast emptiness. I stared into the darkness as we drew closer to the beacon that clutched us in its gravitation. It grew brighter as each day passed. We grew weaker without a supply of ample food or water. More importantly, however, our oxygen reserve lines were damaged during the debris collision and the lack of oxygen bathed us in a daily haze.

The pod shuttered violently and had I the energy to protest, I may have attempted to reroute us away from the unknown. As I looked around at the faces of my friends, what remained of our unit, they too were heavy lidded and slumped over, strapped into their chairs. I closed my eyes for a final time, welcoming the death that awaited as we passed into the weirdly lit dome flanked by an unending black.

How long has she been unresponsive?” A robed onlooker entered the room, noiselessly from the left.

Taren gleamed a look toward his voice but continued with the task of replenishing the requirements of life for the human. Such curious creatures to forfeit lives and explore galaxies. Had his transport ship not been in the area returning from Harland Galaxy, the disintegrating pod would have imploded within days. His vessel’s advanced arc scanners probed the heap and detected faint tells of life on board.

Taren had never heard of fragile life. It did not exist in any world they’d studied in over many lifetimes. Their presence in the Adranian Galaxy was baffling. The drifting pod was secured by the beam fraction; a series of invisible webs that held objects of interest frozen in place, as well as safely distant before teleporting himself into the hull.

In his culture, what was thought of mentally, translated into action. There was little mystery involved in the process except when he tried navigating teleportation while carrying a human. Their fleshy matter didn’t separate as expected. He tried several times without success.

Exceptional. What are these creatures? He decided as the last attempt failed, to bind each with a life force amulet, sustaining their essence while he journeyed back to the transport for consultation. In the end, they succeeded in teleportation of the crew.

It was the female who did not awaken. Each of the men were quarantined for study as their awakening had manifested into delusional madness. They spoke repeatedly about a planet, Earth. The Elders were unable to plot a course from the men’s gibberish. There was no record of their galaxy. Reluctantly, passive methods no longer held the men’s madness at bay and it became necessary to restrain their memories, erasing the pathways. Taren did not question their approach. He was concerned with the female suspended before him. She became his charge.

“You would be wise to share this burden. Attachments weave bindings that are often most difficult to undo. Ill-fated should you, too require a memory clearing.” His Elder, Gani, drifted away from the dimly lit room, as quietly as he entered.

Truthfully, Taren didn’t know how long she had been unresponsive. Time was unnecessary to him. It did not define their lives. She may have been unresponsive for years – he tried to recall how many moons had rotated. He was certain that it had been three rotations of their three moons which meant, over a year.

“Why won’t you awaken? What are you avoiding?” He stood closer now, monitors whirling in the background. Taren decided against better judgement that he’d take matters on his terms. It violated the order of natural selection. He longed to observe her and see how she differed from her companions. The only conclusion that made sense was her mind had trapped her and she was unable to awaken.

He waved his hands over her head, sliding gently in methodic circles until he reached her chest. Above her, a light green hue hung low in the air. He extracted the third circle hovering between her heart and head. There was a blue tint with a white center, her memories. He swiped the freshly plucked disc right with a wave of his hand and her memories surrounded him. They filled the room in micro-sections; the culmination of her life to this point.

He discovered the cause of her entrapment, or so it seemed. The image reflected before him detailed a final moment. It appeared as if shock gripped her as they entered a bright light, a gap in the universe she hadn’t ever witnessed. She cocooned herself, insulating her ability to cope while offsetting an automatic response to live. It was if she dissected herself into two halves. A rare ability.

A shrill erupted behind him. The noise was unfamiliar, and terror fueled. Taren’s exploration forgotten, he turned to the source of the sound. She writhed mid-air, her legs kicking wildly. Incoherence followed. Instinctively, he cradled her. Her eyes opened. Grey flecks in a sea of green met his curious gaze.

She fought against him, her hands balled into fists, pounding weakly against his chest. He felt her fear. Unbothered by her refusal of his protection, he allowed the behavior to play out as he scanned more of her memories. He recognized three of the men in the series. There were six others, companions that must have been lost based on the sorrow that accompanied the emotion attached to these images. He knew so much about her from these images, except she was a complete mystery. The only thing Taren knew with certainty? Her name was Charley, and he didn’t want her out of his sight.

“Her living quarters are ready,” Gani’s voice echoed behind him, interrupting his admiration of her features.

“Is it the same as the others?” Taren wandered past him, into the corridor with Charley slowing her offense.

“It was dangerous of you to remove her memories while she was unconscious. It could have a detrimental outcome. We still know so little about them.” Gani paused, eyeing him with suspicion. “I have to wonder about your intentions.”

They spoke as they traveled and stopped in front of her room. The door slid apart as he waved his hand across the pad. Taren crossed the threshold with her asleep in his arms, her breathing even. He carefully placed her onto the small bed, covering her with the light blanket. As the door closed behind him, Gani opened his mouth to speak.

“You will have to answer for this, should it end badly.” He disappeared out of sight, leaving Taren to his thoughts. The feelings he had acquired for her were unfamiliar. He leaned against the wall staring at the door that separated him from Charley.

__________

I glanced over the room, noting the simple furnishings. The bed near a wall that had an odd cover, a desk with a clear glass overlay that rose up the opposite wall, and a curtain over a doorway. I sat up slowly, unable to move any quicker. My body felt weak. The last memory of the pain in my leg reminded me of the violence of our passing into the light. As I stood, I became aware that my clothing had been changed, my fatigues missing. I was completely perplexed that not one memory existed beyond that moment.

“My crew.” I uttered into the empty room. I stormed to the door searching for a handle to open it. There was no button, only a small pad with red LED lights. I tapped it repeatedly. Nothing happened. I pounded on the door hoping to draw attention to my room.

As the door slid open moments later, I gasped and faltered backward. “Stay away from me.”

“I’m not going to harm you.” It entered the room but moved no further than a footfall inside the doorway. It looked human, except it didn’t. It sounded male. The eyes were pale, with barely noticeable pupils and the hair white as fresh lain snow. Other than that, the features were like mine.

“Where am I? Where are the other men? Why can’t I open this door? Am I a hostage?” My questions rattled off in succession as I braced myself against the bedframe.

“Let’s start a little slower. Come, follow me.” He stepped aside, waving me to accompany him. Taren led the way through the maze of corridors. I kept pace with him but remained quiet. My breathing giving away that I had not fully recuperated since I roused from my slumber. “I’m Taren,” he offered as he slackened his pace.

“Charley,” I responded absently.

“I have to warn you,” he said as we slowed to a halt outside of a door identical to mine, “they may not recognize you. They never recovered.”

“What do you mean, won’t recognize me?” I looked at him with narrowed eyes, unsettled by his last remark.

“When we teleported you all to my cargo carrier, you were unconscious, but they were alert. We’d never encountered humans before and knew nothing about you. They were embattled with an internal struggle, going on about Earth and a bright light. Screams of terror daily, followed by the same manic ramblings. We didn’t know how to help them. The only solution was to erase their memory and create a virtual reality. We used their memories and information of your world off material we found in a locked case to make their reality enhanced.” He looked down at me. Disbelief and confusion reflected on my face. “I have so many questions for you. We have questions.”

It was best if he just showed me. He waved his hand over the pad and the door retreated into the wall. He entered the expansive space. He could see the world they created without the need for visual assistance, but I would not be able to observe in the same way.

“Charley, trust me. You are going to have to hold my hand in order to see where they now reside.” He extended his hand, offering it to her.

I was frozen in place. Before me were the three guys I’d trained with, sweated with, and cried with. But they looked right through me as I timidly entered the white-walled dome. They smiled in my direction without uttering my name. I was a stranger to them as they roamed the room, unaware of our brotherhood.

“Mills? Lad? Madison?” My pleading voice broke. I reached for Taren’s hand, transporting to the world that existed for them. It was home, the home we left behind. The happiest of their memories combined to replicate their perfect world.

The twins were back home, young and carefree, living on their family’s farm. Mills was in the barn, sitting up in the windowless frame, chewing on a strand of fresh hay. Madison, never far from his brother, climbing the perfectly stacked hay. He liked to lay on the highest stack, feeling like superman. They told me so many stories of their childhood.

Lad’s reality, a vast contrast from the twins’ childhood, managed happiness as well. He was reliving the summer he spent abroad with family friends in Greece. He always said it was the best time of his life. He met a local girl, fell in love, lost his virginity, and spent every moment breathing in life’s simplicity. Fondness was how he remembered these moments as he described them to me on sleepless nights during missions.

They coexisted together, Lad unaware of his proximity to two men who cared for him like a brother. The twins, just feet from where Lad stood, across the room from where I stood in this place that had colors vibrant and rich. The smells unwavering, I inhaled, and my mind brought me into their lives.

“Why can they not see me? How do they not see each other?” I choked on a devastated sob, dropping Taren’s hand. I could not take the agony of witnessing this. If this was to be their existence until the day they die, then I could not stand here and watch this unfold, no matter how peaceful. I turned toward the door, slamming my palm on the pad repeatedly, desperate to escape as the world closed in around me, darkening. “Taren.” His name escaped my lips as I succumbed to the darkness and collapsed.

The haze lifted as I blinked my eyes rapidly, adjusting to the hue of the soft blue light that illuminated my room. I heard hushed tones by the doorway. As I glanced in the direction of the sound, a wave of nausea washed over me. I closed my eyes again and listened.

“This is a perilous path. You are making decisions that serve only you. This attraction you have for her creates a strain. She may never be what you desire Taren. It is impossible. I know you wish it to be otherwise. You are going to leave the Ascended Masters no choice but to wipe her memory.”

I coughed noisily, uncomfortable by what I was overhearing, and hoped the etiquette in this place, wherever it was, held the same meaning as Earth.

“This conversation is over,” A hint of irritation edged into Taren’s voice as he directed the other hooded form to leave. It was the first time I’d heard indignation from him pertaining to interactions about me over the past few weeks. The door slid to a close behind him as he crossed the room to the chair positioned near my bed.

Several moments elapsed before I mustered the courage to inquire about the exchange with the other voice. “Why am I a danger to you?” My question barely a whisper.

Taren, for all his alien mannerisms, reacted like a human. He exhaled an exasperated breath, rising cautiously from the chair and repositioning himself on the edge of my bed. In the soft lighting, his pale became iridescent as he hovered over me. His pale eyes captured my gaze, as he stared without answering. He rested a hand over my body – his limbs were another alien feature that set him apart from human; thin and long.

“Give your hand to me.” His request was more of a statement and reluctantly, I obliged.

Truthfully, the more I was around him, the more human he became. I was beginning to feel alien in this strange world. Since I’d been here, so much had changed. The pain didn’t lessen about my comrades, but being around him, it was bearable. Losing Lad was the blow that nearly became my demise and some days, it still brought me to my knees in raw pain. Whenever Taren drew nearer, his presence became the salve that dulled the longing for a life no longer in existence.

“Do you remember how you ended up here? The real reason you left your life behind?” His stare intensified.

“A light appeared in space, months before we were ready to depart for hyperdrive.” I began.

Taren interrupted me. “Before that, what made you leave? Your people evacuated your planet. The home you long for in your dreams?”

I thought about it, about the mission orders. We knew more than most. It was emergent. Half the population had died of an unknown disease, a parasite that scientists had carelessly tested. It was alien in nature, part of a collection of samples which returned from one of the last space missions to the edge of our galaxy. One day, our team was pulled into a special ops brief, out of the blue. They were utilizing every space shuttle on earth that could support life and sending us to converge with an alien planet that held life outside of the Milky Way.

“For survival,” I muttered, heartbroken. He held my hand and pulled me upright, shifting as he cradled me in his lap. It was the first time I was this close to him intimately. He had an odd heartbeat as he embraced me tightly.

“Since your arrival over a year ago, or since we discovered your crew, our Ascended Masters have conferred with many cultures spread across the universe to figure out how you four came to be in our galaxy. In doing so, they met an ancient coven who recounted a story about a species referred to as humans who destroyed their own people. They resorted to using a destructive force supplied by a malicious Alien cult, four galaxies away, light years from here.”

“Wait what?” I attempted to extricate myself from his lap, but his grip held firm.

“Listen, please, you have to know.” He relaxed his grasp as a show of truce. “The government of Earth launched a device into space that had the capabilities to implode your planet. The trade was enslavement of the remaining population, for any means the Alien’s deemed appropriate. The only people who were not to be enslaved were the dealmakers. They sacrificed your planet’s survivors.” He hugged me against his chest again, resting his chin on my head, his fingers entwined in mine, shielding me.

He continued. “Our Elders figured that the technology was unfamiliar and misunderstood because it caused a cataclysmic reaction when activated. The three alien probes launched at predetermined times, but the pulsating energy expelled when your planet turned to dust, resulting in a wormhole from a black hole collision. In turn, it opened a gateway to this galaxy. You are the first four humans to travel this far. The first of anyone to ever reach our galaxy. That portal closed, but it does not deter mal-intended cultures from attempting to recreate the blast. As for your people that escaped, it’s been confirmed that all of them, including the leaders are either slaves or met their demise.”

Tears fell uncontrollably, anger bubbled over. I heard a sound in the distance. Slowly it registered that it was my voice, screaming. Taren did not waver on his grip, he encircled me in a close-fitting cocoon, absorbing my carnal bellowing.

My voice was hoarse when I finally finished, and he still had me wrapped in his embrace. He was as still as a statue, breathing in an evened pattern. I thought about telling him I was sorry, though I doubted it mattered.

“It wouldn’t have mattered.” His response took me off guard.

“Your culture reads minds too?”

“Not in the way you may think. We focus on something and it happens. You’re so new to me and this distraught emotion is foreign. I concentrated on your pain, filtering out the static to see your true inside. It allows me to experience the thoughts you mean to speak aloud.” He pressed his lips to my wavy hair.

“Why are you caring for me so personally?” I turned myself around, peering up at him.

“I can’t explain it. Part curiosity, part need. Let me show you who I am. The most important component as we link is that you remain calm because we’ll vibrate.”

I nodded, eyeing him suspiciously, too tired to argue or object in fear. Taren leaned his head down to my forehead and placed one hand on the back of my neck. I shivered at his intimate touch. Slowly, as if in a silent movie, he presented me with his birth and his life as it extended many of my lifetimes. The images transformed to the moment he boarded our doomed vessel. The careful way he cared for me in that first transport. He showed me the healing process involved in managing my wounds, and the multiple attempts to save my friends from their mental turmoil.

The final revelation piece in his story, his devotedness to me while he waited for me to awaken. I heard his mutterings verbatim. Heard the frequent conversations from his people to accept that I was likely never going to awaken. Lastly, his last attempt, out of love, to save me from my silent hell, a piece of his life essence cast over me with careful administration moments before he pulled my memories, prompting my arousal.

He pulled back, severing our connection.

“You did that all for me?” Fresh tears spilled, falling to my cotton pants. He wiped them with his long fingers.

“There is so much more I want to do for you. In due time, you will understand all of this, but for now, lay with me.” He guided me to the bed, as gentle as with previous encounters. He reached over me, swiping the odd latch on the wall. The covering retracted, revealing glass that peered out into the expansive universe. The sight was breathtaking.

I curled up with him at my back, blanketed by the comfort of his proximity. My heart, broken for what I lost lay in pieces, but the promise of what he shared gave me hope. I grasped the top of his hand as it stroked my hip, gripping me closer. If it were possible, I’d make love to him. And as odd as that sounded when I thought it, I felt like we had already shared the equivalent of that intimacy.

“Rest now Charley. You are my miracle.”

Yawning and stretching my arms, I rolled over, immediately welcoming the sight before me. I was bathed in a familiar scent, calming and happy. I smiled when our gazes met.

“Good morning my sweet girl. Did you sleep well?” My mother’s voice crooned. She gathered me into her arms and swung me in that familiar way that I loved. I snuggled against her neck, inhaling the smell of her skin, fulfilled.

My mother put me on her hip, readying to exit my room when she tilted her head to the side and looked at me with an inquiring expression as I bounced excitedly. “What are you smiling at my love?”

My grin widened. I stared past my mother toward the end of the hall and responded clearly, “Taren.”

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